What were some great, memorable gifts you've received?
September 21, 2012 9:36 PM   Subscribe

What were some great, memorable gifts you've received?

After spending hours looking for a birthday gift, I realized that I've always wanted to be good at gift-giving but always felt lost and unsure when the decision time came.

Can you think of a gift you were particularly impressed or pleased with? One that was especially thoughtful or clever, useful/helpful, or one that you enjoyed very much for a long time, etc.

Without restricting to a certain occasion, I am wondering if there are some common themes in giving a great gift.
posted by eisenl to Human Relations (47 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
If the person smokes, a zippo lighter with a logo of their liking is a nice gift. I bought a packers zippo lighter for someone that I'm interested in. They loved it. :)

That's all I got. :)
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 9:44 PM on September 21, 2012

When I was 20-ish (but with the taste buds of a 5-year-old, apparently), I was obsessed with Lucky Charms cereal, and often commented that what would be really amazing would be if they sold boxes of just the marshmallows. On my birthday, my boyfriend presented me with a box of Lucky Charms and told me to open it, so I did...the entire bag was marshmallows. Apparently he had bought multiple boxes of Lucky Charms, sorted out all the marshmallows, put them all in one bag, and resealed it. Funniest thing I have ever seen, and incredibly sweet (in a really goofy way). Apparently this is actually a product you can buy these days, but honestly that wouldn't have been the same - the hilarious mental image of him sorting through boxes of Lucky Charms and the amount of devotion and care that had gone into it were better than even the marshmallows themselves. We're not together anymore, but this remains my all-time-favorite gift story.
posted by naoko at 10:24 PM on September 21, 2012 [26 favorites]

I think the key to being good at gift-giving is to know the person you are giving the gift to. Really know them. Listen to them during the year and pay attention to what their friends and family say.

An ex really wanted a KitchenAid Stand Mixer but she never would have bought it for herself b/c she considered it an extravagance and she never mentioned it to me. It was only when we were hanging out with her sister that I learned she wanted one and it was only b/c I was paying attention when we were all in the kitchen and her sister said something like, "Still doing without the KitchenAid, huh?" I made sure to follow-up with her sister who told me the exact one I should get. Ding! Perfect Christmas gift, my ex was thrilled.
posted by mlis at 10:29 PM on September 21, 2012 [10 favorites]

I was given 10 shares of Disney stock when I was 13. Besides the cool certificate, it got me interested in the stock market. So much so that I eventually became a floor trader on the American Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

I think the best gifts are ones that are personalized, that are useful, that show a lot of thought was given to coming up with the gift and that reflect a sense that the gift giver really knows the recipient. I also treasure some pretty mundane gifts that were given to me by people I love and respect that gave me the gifts for no reason other than they saw something they thought I would appreciate and got it for me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:31 PM on September 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

Listen to them during the year and pay attention to what their friends and family say.

And write it down. Then you have a nice long list of potential gifts, and when holidays and birthdays roll around, you've got everything sorted.
posted by cmonkey at 10:36 PM on September 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Ditto to the above that great gifts evolve from really paying attention to what someone says, or doesn't say.

That aside, I've found that experiences make great gifts. When we were still just dating, my husband rented out a tiny movie theater (i.e., seated about 6 people) for my birthday and screened Jurassic Park. It was awesome. I've seen cooking class gifts and other similar things be very successful for others. But then, I'm all for making memories rather than accumulating more stuff, of which I already have quite enough.
posted by divisjm at 10:39 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm good enough that picking out gifts that random friends will hear of my powers and demand I figure out what to get their parent/relative/friend that doesn't like or already has EVERYTHING.

Here's some thoughts:

Broadly speaking, something that relates to a field or activity they're interested in that they wouldn't think to buy themselves or didn't know existed is one approach. Which is tough if you don't know the area/field/interest, I know, but with some digging, you can find something.

For example, I'm a baseball fan and a fan of the New York Yankees. I also like weirdly kitschy stuff. The wife got me a Yankees Yard Gnome for Christmas one year. I didn't even know they made such things. She also got me a piece of the old Yankee Stadium foul pole, which is the sort of interesting collectible/memento I'd never think to buy (I can honestly say I'd never thought "I'd really like to own a chunk of the old Yankee Stadium foul pole"), but really do appreciate.

Another approach is something general that you know they like but would be hard to find in their area or shows a significant amount of thought or would be different than picking the easiest option on the list.

For example, my wife likes dangly earrings. It would be easy to go into any store, shrug, and buy a pair of dangly earrings. It shows much more thought to pick a set based on a color she likes and regularly wears or a set that matches a ring or something else she wears. Likewise, a pair of dangly earrings from Target is probably not going to get thrown away, but going down to the local artist's show or vintage flea market and getting her a one-of-a-kind handmade or vintage set that really suits her personality and what she usually wears shows another level of thought.

There's also the practical approach: Get them something they need or would use but a much nicer version of that than they would normally buy. Maybe they do a lot of writing and like good pens, so you get them a really nice $30-50 pen rather than a bag of Bics. Maybe they burn through notebooks like crazy, so you get them a really nice notebook/sketchpad with a good cover and serious paper rather than a cheapie throwaway one. Maybe they like cooking but can only afford cheap knives, so you get them a much nicer knife. You go "A knife? That's your idea of a good gift?" but people who cook really do appreciate a good knife.

For example, my sister is really, really into makeup and cosmetology on a professional level, so it'd be easy to just throw up my hands and buy some cheap brushes or something, or I could ask someone who knows (the girls at the cosmetology store and the makeup counter in the mall were my sources) about such things something like, "What'd be a good gift for someone like you that'd really help you out?" Or my dad burned through cheap Wal-Mart bandanas like crazy since he worked a manual labor job outside, so he really appreciated when I'd dig up a sweat-wicking bandana from a sporting goods-type store rather than his usual $3 Wal-Mart bandanas. (And he'd never buy them himself because $20 for a bandana?! Are you crazy?! But they're pretty great if you sweat a lot!).

In terms of books (since they're popular gifts), one thing I really like to do is drill down and go to the titles that are a little more obscure but still in the same sort of niche the recipient likes.

For example, my mom is a huge Beatles fan, so I could type Beatles into Amazon and get something reasonably nice like this, which looks entirely satisfactory.

But...my mom being a huge fan of the Beatles that went through her teeny-bopper stage and read everything on them probably already knows those stories, you know? So I dig and find something like this, and she also likes The Stones and I think this is a little more niche-y and interesting than something off the bestseller charts or the first page of results, you know?

A close cousin of the Thing They Would Never Buy is The Thing/Activity They Would Never Do. My wife wanted to go to the circus, but she'd never think to get the really nice tickets that include a pre-show meet-and-greet with the performers and good seating. A buddy of mine's dad likes a good drink, so we found a local distillery that does his beverage of choice and worked with them on getting a really nice behind-the-scenes tour with meetings with the master distiller and barrelmaker and such.

So yeah, I think a little bit of thought and a willingness to dig and some planning ahead is important. Where I think people go awry is they wait until the last minute or they decide that, like, Today Is The Day Where I Do The Gift Shopping So I Must Purchase Something Today Or I Am A Massive Failure rather than giving themselves time and space. I'll probably start thinking about mine in mid-November and start keeping an eye out during my regular shopping, with maybe a dedicated expedition once or twice between then and say December 20th.

Or you can ask someone really good at picking out gifts, but that's cheating.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:44 PM on September 21, 2012 [28 favorites]

A few of my most memorable:

Cabbage Patch Doll - when they were SUPER popular (80s). My dad couldn't find them anywhere, but asked his team of sales guys to be on the lookout and to grab one should they come across one. One of his guys found one in Canada! (we're in the US) and snatched it up. I loved that doll and the story that went along with it. Even more, I loved that my parents tried so hard to get me one.

Chapstick - I kid you not. I'm always losing my chapstick. One year, my sister (who was really struggling financially) got me a bunch of different chapsticks. It was insanely useful and even though she was so broke, got me the perfect gift.

Kindle - was never sure if I wanted one but hubby surprised me with one a few years back. I was completely completely surprised, never suspecting or expecting it. It's one of the few times I was absolutely unaware. And I love it!

Satellite radio - We got a new car a few years back that came with a few months of free satellite radio. I casually mentioned to my little brother that I was bummed it was going to end soon. For Christmas, he remembered that casual conversation and got me another year of satellite radio. I was so stinkin' touched that he was listening, that he remembered and that he acted on it.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:44 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good kitchen knives. I use them everyday and have had them for years.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:07 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

The best gift I ever received was a gallon of milk. There was nothing special about the milk. It was just an ordinary gallon of milk that came from someone who knew me well enough to know the importance of a gallon of milk. Showed up in my fridge with a card and a ribbon on the handle at the end of a really bad day. As long as I live, I won't ever forget the moment when I got home and opened the fridge door.

So yeah, the important part is to listen carefully to what people say about what they want and need. The best gifts aren't expensive or complicated or universal in any way. They are the right thing for the right person at the right time.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:11 PM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

For my 30th birthday last week, my wife got me 30 presents and his them around the house with rhyming clues directing me around in a scavenger hunt. Even better, each gift was something I had mentioned liking or wanting over the past year and a half. She had kept notes on me, every time I mentioned something, and when the big day came she had things for me that I didn't even remember, but that were of course the exact right thing. A cocktail recipe book ame with the alcohol to make one of the recipes inside; a tagine came with chicken thighs, apricots, and almonds; a vibrator came with batteries. She even got a friend from Malaysia to bring back a tea I haven't had in a decade. She also made me a dessert from a recipe I had emailed her months and months before. Perfect.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:12 PM on September 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

My ex bought me a whole sewing kit for my birthday one year. I was using my mom's old machine and had been musing about expanding my hobby. He bought a brand new machine for me plus a bunch of sewing notions and accessories. He knew nothing about sewing besides what he'd seen me do or mention, so he went to the fabric store and asked one of the sales associates to help him pick everything needed to "make a dress."

It was extremely thoughtful and generous, but the best part was that he individually wrapped each item and numbered them. I opened up all the little ones first (pins, thread, scissors, etc.) and the last one was the sewing machine - the grand finale! It was really fun to go through and open each gift one by one.

That was my most memorable gift received. When it comes to me giving gifts to someone else, that's hard. I have trouble, too. I have made quilts as gifts and designed them based on colors or patterns that remind me of them. Those were major projects for major occasions, though. Most of the time I like to gift consumables. Like if I know the person likes beer, I'll grab a random beer on the shelf at the store for them to try (doesn't matter if they like it or not, it's the chance for fun exploratory tasting that counts, but bonus points if it has an awesome label or special ingredients). Things you can eat are usually a hit.
posted by E3 at 11:34 PM on September 21, 2012

When I was in middle school, my sister gave me a copy of her chemistry text (she was in high school). Supposedly it was so I'd stop stealing hers.

Best gift I ever got. Lesson: know the recipient.
posted by nat at 11:42 PM on September 21, 2012

I like theme gifts a lot, and my family is really into them. For instance, I will get a nice Crate & Barrel popcorn bowl, a bag of gourmet popcorn, a DVD that I will like, some toppings, a soda maker, etc.

Some of the best gifts I've ever gotten are things that I use every day that I would never buy for myself. My Kindle, luxury electric toothbrush & waterpik, an industrial vacuum cleaner that helps me deal with massive amounts of cat hair, an iPhone, etc.

I also love luxury versions of things related to my hobbies and interests. For instance, I love to knit, and I might get a pair of gorgeous Lantern Moon knitting needles. For Christmas I got an awesome die cutter (Cricut) for my art journaling projects.

Some of my favorite gifts are things not on any wishlist. In this day and age, it's pretty easy to go to someone's amazon wishlist, sort by price, and then pick something. While I'm happy to get things I really want or need, I also like surprises.

When I buy gifts I try to focus on things that are something my relatives wouldn't buy for themselves but would be very useful to them. For instance, my cousin hates to buy cleaning products and always picks up the cheapest, worst performing stuff, so I assembled a goody bag of awesome but eco-friendly cleaning products paired with microfiber cloths and packed them all into a reusable canvas shopping bag. My brother, an ascetic to the extreme, loves Lego bricks, so I've purchased many sets for him over the years and we build them together. Sometimes I'll notice a deficiency in someone's life and try to rectify it--my dad's Apple keyboard was driving him batshit crazy, so I picked up a normal looking keyboard that will work wirelessly with his iMac, iPad, and iPhone.

I like to make things, too. For Christmas last year I made a pet scrapbook for my cousin and her dog using a collar as the binding, filled it with decorations, and then packed it into a bag with a small giftcard for PetSmart as part of the package decoration. I also knit hats, socks, and scarves, and these seem to be well received.

It's all about paying attention--not necessarily to what someone SAYS they want, but what you observe that they would like or need.
posted by xyzzy at 12:14 AM on September 22, 2012

If I can continue with giving advice about how to give memorable gifts, making the most of inside jokes between friends is also a good way to go. This Christmas was my first with Mr Wintersonata and we are both huge fans of Peter Serafinowicz's sketch character Brian Butterfield (one of the first funny videos we watched together and really bonded over). So naturally I made him a Butterfield Christmas Pizza.

As far as gifts I've received, these stand out:

* When I was 15 and had just moved to another high school and was miserable away from my friends, an uncle I barely knew was moving to Hawaii and needed to get rid of his 12-string guitar and gave it to me. I was just learning chords, but getting that amazing guitar - just because he heard that I was learning, and was at such a musically influenceable age - really pushed me to learn more and to play often. He also burnt me a Beastie Boys CD for no reason other than that he was awesome.

* A castle-shaped bundt pan from Williams-Sonoma from a good friend who knows how much I love to impress people with my baking skills

* A KitchenAid stand mixer (just like in mlis's story)

I'm also trying to get better at gift giving. It's all about taking mental notes whenever someone starts a sentence with, "Man, I wish I had/hadn't lost/knew where my [] was"
posted by wintersonata9 at 12:21 AM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some of the best gifts I've received cost very little. And sometimes they didn't come at traditional gift-giving times. But, as others have mentioned, they all had to do with paying attention.

One example: About a year ago, my cat named Puppy died; he was a gorgeous orange thing. When I was visiting someone shortly after that, she offered to give me the coffee mug she had with a picture of a cat that looked a lot like Puppy, and I accepted. It was such a sweet gesture, and I love using that mug.
posted by jeri at 12:39 AM on September 22, 2012

For the first Christmas we had in the Netherlands my boyfriend gave me imported copies of US Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Wired. We'd been having a super hard time financially, and while I love reading trashy magazines I'd never, never buy them because the English editions are so expensive in Europe. It's one of my favourite gifts of all time, because it made me feel like my boyfriend really noticed me and bought me something I'd never get myself.
posted by nerdfish at 1:01 AM on September 22, 2012

One of the best gifts I ever got was from my grandma. She had found 2 blank recipe books (one for each of her 2 granddaughters that she had at the time) that were designed so that they could be filled in with whatever recipes you wanted. She went through and divided the book into different sections (meats, vege, drinks, desserts etc) and then handwrote all the different recipes. She included recipes from various weddings (her children's weddings etc), recipes that now deceased family members were known for etc. I may not make all or anything from it but I will always have that book in her own handwriting even when she is no longer with us.
posted by googlebombed at 1:15 AM on September 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

I once received eight pounds of bacon.
posted by knile at 1:41 AM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

sodastream! I loooove club soda, but it feels wasteful to open a can and then only use half, and the 2 litre bottles go flat before I finish it. Beloved boyfriend had seen me oohing and ahhing over them, but he knew I would never get around to getting one for myself. Another amazing present he gave me was a boom box that played mp3 discs, and some audiobooks on disc - totally changed my life, because it turned out that audiobooks are the greatest thing ever if you can't get to sleep because you have a racing mind.
these are examples of the 2 best gift-giving categories - things you want but would never buy for yourself, and things that you didn't even know you needed.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:01 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a cool thread! I love the ideas that everyone has, thanks. I'll put in a few that my husband, an excellent gift-giver, has given me over the years (pre and post marriage) -

- A t-shirt printed with one of our favorite inside jokes. It's not really appropriate for public wearing but it's a favorite pajama shirt and makes me smile every time I see it in the drawer (that was 5 years ago).

- A mini-"snow"-globe with a great picture of us (sparkly hearts instead of snow when you shake it)

- The "Earth" textbook from John Stewart - a perfect example of what others describe above of noting my interests (Daily Show) and getting me something related that I would have never gotten myself.

- A Kindle! Just like so many others, I would have never bought it for myself, but we are inseparable now ;-)

His sister is also an amazing gift giver, and at a lower budget! She has given us many cool things as well: gourmet foods - peanut butter with toffee for example - beautiful spice assortment, a cheap but cute-looking mini-fondue set, a fun hand-held puzzle game, photos and paintings done by herself.

I'm not the best gift giver, but I do hate the last minute gift rush, and that sense that you HAD thought of something great for X person, but you've forgotten. My solution: I just buy it the day/week that I thought of it and keep it til the next birthday/holiday. I also have a "gift drawer" - when I see something nice at an extremely low sale price, like high-end alcohol or chocolate etc. I just buy it and use it with acquaintances or as a supplement to other gifts.
posted by Pieprz at 2:28 AM on September 22, 2012

Someone I once dated bought me a good shower head. It was back in the days of moving from apartment to apartment almost every year. I'd move in, unscrew the crappy shower head, screw in the nice one and presto, good showering!

It has been more than ten years and I still have it, still use it and still think fondly of my ex-boyfriend (now a good friend).

Personally, I've stuck with the following rules for gift giving:
1. get something for the person that they'd like to get but either wouldn't think of it or would think it indulgent. Example: I got my husband a waffle maker. He loves waffles, but wouldn't buy the waffle maker himself.

2. get something that the person put on a wish list or when I ask them directly what they want they suggest. Sometimes this is just the best way to go.

3. get a bunch of silly things and put them in a box together. For a birthday, I got someone some solar powered Japanese style lanterns to hang in the garden, a giant shaped crayon, a popsicle mold, a tiny stuffed dog, and a set of paper eyeglasses on sticks to be silly with.

4. I find something that really needs to be given to someone but it isn't an appropriate gift giving moment, I just get the damn thing and give it to the person. Unexpected gifts are awesome.

5. Nerf guns that fire suction cup darts are always a good gift. It is election season AND football season in the US. Those suction cup darts stick to the television screen.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:49 AM on September 22, 2012

When I was in my early 20s, my boyfriend at the time gave me a pair of diamond stud earrings for my birthday one year. They cost about $100, and that was the first time anyone other than my parents had ever spent that much money on me, or given me a gift that said "you deserve beautiful things." That was 20 years, and several relationships, ago, but I'm crying right now just thinking about it.
posted by drlith at 4:09 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The best gift I get every year is a custom made calendar that my mom and sister put together for all of our respective homes...they go through old family pictures (beloved deceased aunts and grandparents, etc.), then they put in funny dates (when Kinetic lost her first tooth, when Kinetic's sister crashed her first bike, when Mom forgot the sugar in the birthday cake).

They calendars themselves are great, the pictures are always memorable and happily tearful (one year they dug up my 1st day of school with me holding desperately on to my then-dog's leash, looking terrified), and to know we all have the same calendar on our fridges is just really sweet.
posted by kinetic at 4:35 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband printed and bound a novel I had written as a child from a pile of moulding typescript shoved in a drawer. It was magical to open my gift and see a book from my childhood. Childhood presents are always a winner - tracking down a vintage toy or poster or book that was loved is pretty easy on the internet and is incredibly sentimental.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:10 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Either luxury upgrades of useful things (great pots, luxury sheets, knives, awesome towels), or simple thoughtful things (I once got silly putty, which I'd never gotten as a child, or my favorite snack at the right time, or flowers and a note for no reason). Usually things I don't want to pay for - massages. A kindle. An iPad.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:14 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

dpx.mfx: "... luxury upgrades of useful things ..."

Yes! When my in-laws once asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I asked for coffee, hoping for a bag of something more unusual than my Folger's. Instead I got a subscription to a free trade coffee-of-the-month service called Grounds for Change, which makes me happy in several ways: It's a consumable (so no knickknack clutter), it comes every month (I get a package from the FedEx guy! Who doesn't love to get packages?), it's free trade (so I feel a little more comfortable that I'm not supporting some big rainforest-destroying conglomerate), it doesn't require any work on my part like a gift card would (I have gift cards that are years old, because I never get around to using them), and it's c-o-f-f-e-e, which, hello! Coffee!).

Related to coffee, a cousin had my name in a Christmas grab bag once, and on my Amazon list* was a burr grinder, which I had only seen for significantly more expensive prices than our grab bag spending limit. Imagine my surprise when I received a burr grinder from her. When asked why she gave me such an expensive gift, she said she had found it on sale the very day she read my wish list. So every day when I'm grinding my free trade coffee in my lovely burr grinder, I think of my in-laws' generosity and my cousin's fabulous shopping skills, and smile.

*I use my Amazon wish list as a place to remind myself about items to buy for myself someday, not just for things for other people to buy me.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:56 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best gift I've ever given was a cabinet. I filled the drawers, something small in each one. Sparkly tat, really.

Best I've ever received was a model airplane - same as everyone else is saying, someone listened when I spoke wistfully.
posted by Leon at 6:28 AM on September 22, 2012

As a wedding gift, my best friend gave me (us) an old litho stone with the art for the State of Indiana's Retailer's and Wholesaler's Liquor License on one side. It's an amazing piece of art. There's art for insurance company checks on the reverse side.

The funny part about was, when he came to our apartment with his gift, he walked up to us with this wrapped box like he was carrying a huge weight (those stones are very heavy) The first thing I blurted-out was "What's in there? A litho stone?" We had a good laugh over that.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on September 22, 2012

to go along with naoko's story, one St. Patrick's Day my husband announced that he had prepared a "traditional Irish breakfast" for me.

I went downstairs to discover a bowl of Apple Jacks with only the green pieces.
posted by Lucinda at 7:09 AM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am wondering if there are some common themes in giving a great gift.

I've come to the conclusion it boils down to being extraordinarily thoughtful about the person you're giving the gift to. The gift is selfless.
posted by squeak at 7:27 AM on September 22, 2012

The past few Christmases my Mom has gone through boxes of our stuff still at their house and have regifted the items back to us. That cabbage patch kid I got as a kid was in one of those boxes, so she wrapped it up and gave it to me again with a note attached, "Christmas Past." One year she came across some Barbie clothes that my grandmother had knit for my Barbies when I was little. She displayed them in a shadow box (from the craft store) and presented them to me. It's so fun to remember getting them the first time and then to get them the second time - to share the stories with my children and let them experience those gifts.

I really really LOVE sentimental gifts. My mother loves to write and has written some great memories of hers and given those as gifts. One year my sister framed three pictures of three homes that were very important to us. Another time my mother took a picture of my favorite trail at the lake. She had it blown up so now I have this huge picture of that trail.

My older brother and his wife always give us the same gift each year - a selection of treats from their state. We don't feel like it's Christmas until we've gotten the treats! We look forward to that each year.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:30 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The gift is selfless.

Correction. Better to say, the act is selfless.
posted by squeak at 7:31 AM on September 22, 2012

A friend of mine developed a book-of-the-month gift for me for Christmas one year. At the time we were all into Nora Roberts books. She got the complete book list and then scoured local used bookstores until she found Nora Roberts first 12 books. Each month she gave me one. It involved a little work and thought and gave me something to look forward to each month.
posted by PJMoore at 7:42 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a senior in high school, I ditched prom to go with my team to the world finals for Odyssey of the Mind. My freshman teammates, knowing what I was missing, made me a corsage out of colored duct tape, presented in a duct tape box with my name on it. It was a really sweet gesture, and entirely in keeping with the spirit of Odyssey of the Mind. I still have the corsage and box today, which is probably more than I would've been able to say about a real corsage.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:47 AM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nthing the "know the recipient and think about what they would love."

And if you do that, sometimes you don't even need to spend money for it. One of my all-time favorite birthday presents ever came from a high school friend that I kept in touch with a couple years on into college; one year, for my birthday, he made me a whole double-mixtape of George Harrison songs because "you and George have the same birthday". That was nearly 20 years ago, and I still dig that thing out and listen to it every year.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on September 22, 2012

It helps to either buy the gift or make a note to yourself about it when you think of it, even if it a long time til the gift giving occassion. I like to use Amazon WishList (and Pinterest) for this.

Also, everything is better in the mail. A friend I exchange packages for mo particular reason and hers, at least, are always DELIGHTFUL. Seriously. She likes to make chocolate covered things that, to be honest, are usually a bit bitter for my taste, but she sends them in the most thoughtfully packaged decorated way and includes a letter.

All that said, I think the most touching gift I have ever received is a copy of a family cookie recipe from one of my best friend's from high school. She knows how much I've loved having them for 15 years now. Those cookies mean home and Christmas and friends and family and bonfires to me. This year I got the recipe. It makes me feel like I am a part of their family.

On preview: Also, the year EmpressCallipygos was my Secret Quonsar she sent me a nearly perfect package, almost coincidentally. It was great.
posted by maryr at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2012

I **love** giving gifts, and will spend way too much time agonizing about them, to the amusement of everyone around me. I echo what everyone else has said - get things they wouldn't normally get themselves, nicer versions of things they would need, and experiences they would never get themselves.

Best gifts I have ever received:

*Last Christmas baniak got me a crochet class, and painted me a picture of a narwhal with a hook for a horn so he would have something to give me. It is one of the best gifts I have ever gotten, because I'd been trying to teach myself for YEARS without success.

*a crappy ex gave me a 1" badge maker for my birthday. It was a far too extravagant gift for how long we'd been dating, but I'd wanted one for a long time and would have never bought one because it was so expensive. The same ex gave me a handful of PERSONALIZED SHARPIES for Christmas, and I still have and use them.

*When I 'graduated' 8th grade my aunt gave me a hot pink plastic briefcase full of sketchbooks and fancy art markers. One of the most thoughtful gifts ever. I discovered I sucked at art, but I had a blast trying.

This is such a great question, and I'm LOVING reading and storing away suggestions on how to do even better.
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:54 AM on September 22, 2012

8 or 9 years ago, I was totally broke. My car wasn't running and my coffee maker broke. My boyfriend at the time gave me his old bike, a cheap coffee maker, and a coffee grinder. We are talking $40 out of pocket.

That boyfriend and I broke up. I kept the things.

I rode that bike every day to work, where I met the guy that introduced me to my husband. Years later, I finally bought myself a new bike. Now my husband rides my ex's bike.

One time, I got a fancier coffee maker for a gift to replace the cheap one my ex gave me. My husband tried it for a few days, declared the new one too difficult, threw it out, and went back to the cheap gift. Years later, we put the coffee maker and grinder in storage while we were in between places. We made and ground coffee using our host's equipment. My husband cursed them daily and made sure that the coffee stuff was the first thing unpacked at our new house.

It's all about knowing the recipient and giving them what they need at the right place and the right time.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:26 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

After I lost 1/3 of my books in a flood, my son gave me books for Christmas because he understood how much I mourned my lost books.

I try to give gifts that are "best in class" or personal or silly in a way the recipient might like, or gifts from my travels. I've given really great dish towels, replaced some much-loved Christmas lights that had broken, chili pepper lights, small paintings from a New Orleans street artist. One year, I spent hours scanning old family photos and made cds for my siblings. My nephews get an annual tshirt from woot. My gifts are 'low-commitment.' If you don't love the dish towel, it doesn't matter much.

Avoid over-manufactured 'gifts,' like baskets of cheap lotion with cheap scent. Most of the gift-y junk that shows up at stores for holidays is way overpriced, and not great quality. It's okay to give socks if your brother always needs socks; buy the nicest socks you can, and add a pair that will make him laugh. It's okay to ask people what they would like as a gift. If your Mom says she has too much stuff, listen, and send flowers.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on September 22, 2012

My mother likes to give me earrings for my birthday, because I would never buy them for myself. A couple of years ago, she gave the *the pair.* Small, bright blue stones, with little hoops around them and an exceedingly cute dangly part. They were perfect, and I wore them every day. Then I lost one, and cried.

Three birthdays later, I opened a box of two new earrings, exact copies, that she made herself. She tracked down every part by asking around at local bead stores, learned how to make wire hooks herself, and took a class to learn how to wrap beads with wire.

They are far more precious than the originals ever were.
posted by femmegrrr at 1:40 PM on September 22, 2012 [15 favorites]

I got a six-foot-tall potted ficus once. Awesome, especially since to this day I haven't the vaguest notion how Mr. Scratch got it into the living room without me noticing.
posted by scratch at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2012

I could type Beatles into Amazon and get something reasonably nice like this, which looks entirely satisfactory.

But...my mom being a huge fan of the Beatles that went through her teeny-bopper stage and read everything on them probably already knows those stories, you know? So I dig and find something like this

Plus it's cheaper, too
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 3:00 PM on September 22, 2012

Like a lot of people here have said: its about care, thoughtfulness and paying attention to the gift receiver and not about the money.

My Dad tells me that the gift that brought me the most pleasure in my entire childhood was also the cheapest - 2 gerbils at 25p each.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 12:37 AM on September 23, 2012

My boyfriend is an extremely thoughtful gift giver.

The most recent incident was that I had been collecting and rereading a long series of books from my childhood. They are out of print and have to be sourced from ebay or used books on Amazon. The prices also vary dramatically -- some can be found for 5 dollars and some for 45 dollars or more. Anyway I'd been complaining for a while how difficult it was to find some of these books and how crazy the prices were. Also that I felt kind of guilty buying any more of them since they weren't the greatest in terms of literary quality -- it's just that they made me feel all nostalgic about my childhood.

A couple weeks later I received two of the missing links in my collection which he'd hunted down for me on Amazon.
posted by peacheater at 10:25 AM on September 23, 2012

My most favorite gifts are always ones where the person has remembered me saying I liked something and then gifted it to me many months later. Not so much in the 'Oooh, I want an XBox' vein (though those are nice, too), but more like the time that my mother remembered that I had been interested in a specific style of knitting bag and painstakingly replicated it's features in a home sewn bag.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:34 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fire Extinguishers are my go to housewarming/welcome gift. A necessary, moderately pricey, often overlooked item. Plus it tells that person you don't want them to burn to death.
posted by Prevailing Southwest at 5:02 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

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